Talk of abortion, drugs, homosexuality and racial politics all figure in the one-hour introduction of this series on the N, serving notice that the teen-oriented cable franchise isn’t screwing around. Although the situations generally fall somewhere between “Afterschool Special” and “The OC,” an attractive young cast sells the soapy antics for about as much as they’re worth, as a trio of teens discover they’re not in Ohio anymore.
Their new digs are rather in California, where the family has relocated, though they still say grace over dinner. The twist, such as it is, is that the Carlin clan includes an adopted African-American son who’s a brainiac, Clay (Danso Gordon), as well as his cheerleader sis Spencer (Gabrielle Christian) and basketball-star brother Glen (Chris Hunter), who’s allegedly a hotshot but from the game footage lends credence to the whole “white men can’t jump” thing.
Adjusting can be tough, of course, especially when a raving bitch (Valery Ortiz) runs the cheerleading squad and her boyfriend, Aiden (Matthew Cohen), is the star point guard, one who resents having Glen stealing the limelight. Oh, and Spencer also quickly befriends a quirky girl (Mandy Musgrave) who prefers girls now, though she once dated Aiden, but that was so, like, sophomore year.
Series creator Thomas W. Lynch knows the teen-soap territory (his credits include “The Secret World of Alex Mack”), but this is clearly an edgier treatment meant to address teens on a shoulder-to-shoulder level. Yet with the exception of Clay, who is arrested and harassed by L.A. police for “Driving While Black,” the web of relationships doesn’t feel particularly fresh, mirroring the recent spate of nighttime teen serials.
Nor are the other leads perhaps as sympathetic as they could be, what with everyone looking like they just stumbled out of the Abercrombie & Fitch catalog. Glen comes across as an amiable goof, while Christian and Gordon fare better as his siblings, encountering more difficulty adapting to their new surroundings.
That said, credit the cable net (which is devoted to preschoolers as Noggin during the day) with dabbling in this sort of original half-hour fare, building on “Degrassi: The Next Generation” to maximize its primetime real estate.
As for interesting footnotes, “South of Nowhere” is shot in a California correctional facility. For plenty of teens, it’s hard to imagine a better venue to approximate the high school experience.